For better or for worse Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO franchise, which takes popular properties like Star Wars and shrinks them down to brick form, has been running like a well-oiled machine. It might sound harsh to say the developer can’t make time for evolution of gameplay mechanics or experimentation, but when each game property has been bigger than the next there hasn’t been any need to change up the formula.
But eventually there’s going to be a tipping point, when a developer needs to evolve or die — and that tipping point is LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes. While previous games like LEGO Harry Potter and Indiana Jones have made subtle advances, LEGO Batman 2 hopes to take the franchise in a new direction, while still remaining faithful to its core ideas.
From the outset LEGO Batman 2 tries to differentiate itself from past games by making subtle changes to the tried-and-tested formula, starting most prominently with the inclusion of voice acting. While past games have used a Chaplin-esque series of pantomimed cut scenes to create a chuckle here or there, this game relies on its voice acting and writing to generate the laughs, and it succeeds. It felt like sacrilege for Traveller’s Tales to abandon their trademark cut scene format, but after experiencing Vicki Vale’s witty deconstructions of in-game events it’s hard to imagine a LEGO game without voice acting.
The story itself revolves around Lex Luthor teaming up with Joker to enact some dastardly plan, and Batman needing to rely not just on Robin, but the entire Justice League for help. It’s nothing special, and is actually a standard superhero plot, but the ways in which the game pokes fun at its stereotypical nature makes the story enjoyable.
Gameplay itself is nothing new, players will methodically smash every object, LEGO or otherwise, in the hopes of it dispensing with its gold, silver, or purple-colored riches. Batman and Robin once again have access to their batarangs and grapple hooks for some added flourish and traversal — but seasoned LEGO veterans will know the drill and will love every bit of the tried and true gameplay. In the early goings the game is essentially a more polished version of the first LEGO Batman with a few new additions, namely the inclusion of special suits for Batman and Robin, but all that changes pretty fast.
While the game itself is titled LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes, it would be more appropriately labeled Batman & Superman. Not only is the last son of Krypton a major selling point for the game but he replaces Robin during about 50% of the game’s 15 story missions, and on occasion joins the dynamic duo. Other members of the Justice League like Wonder Woman, Cyborg, and The Flash don’t come into play until way late in the game, but their presence freshens things up and makes for a really solid finish.
Don’t misunderstand, though, the inclusion of Superman is an inspired one, and makes for some of the best callbacks for a Traveller’s Tales LEGO fan out there. Superman, unlike any playable character in this or past games, is exactly how he is portrayed in comics or movies: he’s indestructible (his health is indicated by four silver hearts), can fly, has heat vision, freeze breath, and can build faster than Batman and Robin combined.
This is Superman done right, or at least done right for a LEGO game. The freedom to fly around any part of the beautifully rendered LEGO version of Gotham City (this is the first game in the series that features a completely open HUB world) is itself worth the price tag, but that’s only a small portion of the entire Superman experience. Yes, kryptonite does come into play, and the ability to fly at will is lost, but for the most part he remains the Superman we all expect him to be, and that’s amazing.
Batman and Robin aren’t slouches either; they just can’t compete when compared to Superman. Each part of the dynamic duo is given a handful of useful suits to switch between, suits that are necessary to solve many of the game’s puzzles. Rather than focus on platforming, this time around Traveller’s Tales asks the player to juggle the abilities of each superhero, or their suit, to progress forward. For example, the player might need to use Superman to cool down a fire before Batman can use his power suit to blow up an obstacle that then opens a path for Robin to use his Magnet Suit to climb up the wall.
Unfortunately, favoring these types of puzzles leads to frequent back tracking and character switching just to make sure every character is at the same spot. It’s a bit tedious, but only in terms of playing solo; in co-op, the puzzles are almost perfectly executed, giving each player something to do.
The only major complaint that can be waged towards the game — beyond co-op favoritism or limited storytelling — is the poor execution of the aforementioned open world. While everything from the Bat Cave to Arkham Asylum looks stunning in a combination of LEGO blocks and CG, navigating the city is a real chore. Important side elements like the hidden red bricks and secret villains are very hard to discern from the background, and just getting to the next story mission is rather complicated especially when racing in the Batmobile or zipping through the sky as Superman.
In fact, the inclusion of the revolutionary HUB world doesn’t provide that much in the way of interesting content, it just scatters all the hidden LEGO nuggets fans all love in harder to find places. If navigation had been improved, or a better marker system had been implemented, I might have searched high and low for every gold brick, but after getting turned around several times per search it just wasn’t worth it.
Small grievances aside, LEGO Batman 2 is without a doubt one of the best LEGO games Traveller’s Tales has released, and it’s the best Superman game players will likely have ever experienced. Dominating each mission as the Man of Steel or alternating between Batman and Robin’s various gadget-filled suits is more than fun, it’s pure fanboy bliss. Exciting mission variety and extremely funny character interactions keep the game moving at a breakneck pace without feeling overly repetitive or simplistic, a criticism that has kept previous LEGO games from being more than just ‘okay’.
It’s evident that Traveller’s Tales’ previous games have been leading up to this and, while it still has a lot of the innate flaws of the prior platformers, it hides those imperfections quite well. It might be quite some time before we get a Justice League movie, but this is a damn fine Justice League game.
Have you had a chance to check out LEGO Batman 2? Do you think that the inclusion of Superman is worth the price tag alone?
LEGO Batman 2: DC Superheroes is available now for PS3, Xbox 360, PC, and Vita. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for review.
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